Saturday, May 25, 2013

Practicing the Presence: present tense? or mind full?

Is the Present tense? Or is the mind full?

"You have to be present to win!"

I had lunch with a friend the other day. I don’t see him often because of he lives at a distance. He works for Boeing in a repair consulting role that fields calls from airline maintenance crews worldwide.

Like firemen who work long shifts with days off in between, my friend has to be on hand for these calls and the long shift days makes meditation time difficult. He has to get up quite early and gets home very late. Consequently, the goal of meditating twice a day is, well, honored “in the breach.” When the days off finally come, he needs rest and, in addition, may have to drive several hours to his first home where his wife is. She’s not a meditator.

I suggested to him that he accept what he can do in re meditation and be grateful for the time he can profitably take. Put aside the “ought” and embrace the reality he’s got. Hopefully by greater appreciation of the time he can take for meditation, he will have a deeper and more satisfying meditation than fussing over what he didn’t and can’t do!

But this brought up the subject of “how to be mindful, and practice the presence of God” during those long shift days. He reported, as do most meditators, that his mind is restless (not just in meditation but during the day), and with the kind of work he does (sitting by the phone waiting for emergency repair calls!), he is lured into daydreaming or otherwise drifting off, as it were.

The mind is a terrific foe even as it can be our guide and mentor. But we must learn to rein it in by focusing it upon interests that feed our ideals, our rightful preoccupations, and our higher aspirations. This takes patience. Did I say “patience?” If not, let me repeat that: it takes PATIENCE!

A couple of points came to the fore spontaneously in our conversation:

  1. The basis of mindfulness is calmness and concentration. These attributes of the mind are most effectively developed through meditation. Thus meditation is essential to mindfulness during activity. In fact, practicing the presence is a form of meditation and an extension of meditation from sitting into activity. The more of the one, the easier for the other, and vice versa!
  2. In coming out of meditation, make it a practice to extend the quiet mind born of meditation into the minutes, and with practice, the hours that follow. Move deliberately, even slowly. Think deliberately, even slowly. Do one thing at a time. As you shower or have breakfast after rising from sleep and meditating, do so in a calm, focused meditative mood.
  3. During the day, return to this space as often as it returns to your mind to do so. Alternatively, using a watch or a smartphone, get a timer (try, and set a soothing chime sound on the hour to bring you back to that space.
  4. Mindfulness should be practiced a little bit at a time. Calmly, carefully, and patiently. Let it grow organically from the spiritual pleasure and well-being it brings.
  5. “Chanting is half the battle,” to quote Paramhansa Yogananda. Chanting throughout the day, or whenever you can remember, is very powerful and enjoyable. You can use mantras, mantra put to melody, mantra chanted rhythmically, affirmations, or, as we do at Ananda, chants with English words such as the entire collection given to the world by Paramhansa Yogananda or Swami Kriyananda. Or, you can chant your favorite Indian bhajan.
  6. You can chant silently to yourself, or “under your breath,” or, in some cases (like in the car or walking down a noisy city street), aloud!
  7. Mantras to choose from are endless but begin and end, literally, and otherwise, with the mother of all mantras: AUM. Aum can be surreptitiously chanted by simply humming softly wherever you are. For energy and spiritual strength, try Aum namoh Shivaya. For dharma and right action, Sri Ram, jai Ram. For devotion try either the Mahamantra (Hare, hare, Krishna, hare, hare; hare, hare Rama, hare Rama) or Om namoh Bhagavate Vasudeva. Or, simply, Aum guru.
  8. Word phrases, affirmations, or chant words should be simple, especially if your activities require mental engagement. “I am Thine; be Thou mine.” “Lord I am Thine, Be Thou mine.” “I want only Thee, Lord; Thee, only Thee.” “Door of my heart, open wide I keep for Thee.” “I am strong in myself, I am free.” These are just some examples.
  9. Don’t begin by expecting you can do this all day. Start with one minute and build your mental strength from there.
  10. Avoid lapsing into a mechanical repetition, however. It’s not only ok, but perhaps better, to practice for X number of minutes; pause for a bit and absorb the effect.
  11. Forms of mindfulness are also numerous but for those who are not devotionally inclined and who seek to be more present and conscious during activity consider the following:
  12. At natural pauses between activities (closing a file or case or project; finishing a phone call or a meeting, e.g.), do some conscious breathing. Breath techniques abound but what we at Ananda call the “double breath” (tensing the whole body, while standing or seated, while holding the breath after a vigorous inhalation) is great for energy. Long, slow diaphragmatic breathing is good for calmness and presence of mind; alternate breathing, for balance.
  13. Do a mini-meditation: BEE: B reathe;  E nergize; E njoy. Take a couple of deep breaths (of your choice, e.g., see #12 above); internalize your awareness and feel the energy of the body; and then be still for a moment and enjoy the experience. Time lapse 30 seconds to 2 minutes!

Am I losing my mind?
A few words on losing your mind. (Huh?) There is a distinct pleasure and satisfaction from “losing yourself” in your activity. It can even be relaxing and refreshing. So what I am saying is that there are two ways to go: set a part of your mind apart from your activity into the watchful state; or, immerse yourself in what you are doing. Thus far in this article I have addressed only the former, not the latter. It comes to me now as an after-thought. But this losing your mind thing needs some clarification.

There are, in turn, two ways to lose your mind. One is to do so frantically, being anxious for the result or engrossing oneself into the experience and descending into subconsciousness. Becoming frantic and anxious and upset is hardly a satisfying experience. Descending into the subconscious mind is what happens when you tuck into your favorite tub of ice cream (when no one is looking) and fifteen minutes later you come up for air realizing that “I ate the whole thing.”

These two examples above of losing your mind are NOT what I am talking about.  Here’s what I mean:

Start with calmness and a quiet confidence as you approach the task at hand. If you are devotionally inclined, silently ask for divine guidance in what you are about to do. Silently offer your forthcoming action to God in whatever form you hold dear. Otherwise, simply mentally state your intention and how it fulfills your duty or ideal and fits into your priorities.

Then, as you go about your task, do so with a quiet mind, with calm concentration, and quiet sense of competency and confidence. Don’t be like most people who are of two minds when a difficult or troublesome (or boring) task must be done and can no longer be avoided. Enter fully into what must be done. Palpable enthusiasm is very helpful but sometimes you are simply doing what must be done. Either way do so with your entire BEING.

When you are finished you will find that refreshing sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes from doing what is right. Resist the temptation to congratulate yourself: you simply did what was needed. If you are devotional by temperament, thank God for the opportunity and offer the results to God, thus freeing your ego from attachment. In any case, once finished, relax or move on and give it no more thought. Be free of whatever action you engage in once you are finished.

Well, that’s all my mind wants to say today! Remember:

You have to be present to win!


Swami Hrimananda!